Activists file federal lawsuit to stop $500M Obama center
- Chicago park activists filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in an attempt to prevent city officials from authorizing construction of the $500 million Obama Presidential Center and to keep the city from moving forward with a long-term lease of parkland to the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
- Protect Our Parks and three individuals filed the federal legal action in advance of Chicago's city council and planning commission decision as to whether to expand the Obama Presidential Center's boundaries into Jackson Park and transfer the land to the city so that it can then lease it to the Obama Foundation for what will likely be a minimal fee. In the filing, the plaintiffs called the foundation's revised plans to build the center without the inclusion of a presidential library an "institutional bait and switch," with "little, if any, value to historians." Protect Our Parks et al. also claimed that transferring portions of Jackson Park to the foundation and charging a token rent breaks with the park district's regulations and that allowing parkland to be used by a private entity for private use is against the law.
- Another organization, Friends of the Park, which is the same group that helped scuttle plans for the $1 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to be built along the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, said they welcome the center but that the city's parks should not be used for real estate development, particularly when there is available vacant land near the proposed site.
This suit could very well turn out to be a serious threat to the viability of the center. Back in 2016, Friends of the Park filed a series of lawsuits to stop film director George Lucas from building a proposed museum on two sites, both requiring the city to give up parkland. Lucas then began looking at other sites and will now build the museum in Los Angeles.
About a year ago, the Obamas unveiled the design for the center, which included a library, and estimated that the project would create 5,000 construction jobs during the building phase and another 2,500 permanent jobs once open. The overall, 10-year economic impact for Chicago was projected to be about $3 billion, with $2 billion of that benefiting the Southside neighborhood surrounding the Center.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the Protect Our Parks lawsuit "frivolous," according to the Chicago Tribune, and said that although the presidential records will be digitized and housed elsewhere, the project will still meet the educational imperative by including classrooms and a Chicago public library branch on-site.
- Chicago Sun-Times Federal lawsuit filed to block Obama Center in Jackson Park
Follow Kim Slowey on Twitter